First, let’s discuss what a preliminary hearing is. A preliminary hearing is a “mini trial” that comes after the arraignment and before the trial. It takes place when you are charged with a felony offense. There is no preliminary hearing for misdemeanor charges in California. Preliminary hearings are a constitutional safeguard to ensure that there is enough evidence to proceed to an actual trial. If, at a preliminary hearing, the judge determines that there is not enough evidence to proceed to a trial, individual charges or perhaps the entire case will be dismissed.
So, what constitutes “enough evidence”? Well that all depends on what the burden of proof is. The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is different from the burden of proof at a trial. The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is probable cause, which is a low burden for the prosecution, while the burden at a trial is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a high burden for the prosecution.
Probable cause is a requirement found in the Fourth Amendment that typically needs to be met before law enforcement can make an arrest, conduct a search, or obtain a warrant. Courts find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed for an arrest or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched.
The reason preliminary hearings are so important is because law enforcement (and the Prosecution) is not immune to making mistakes. In fact, law enforcement frequently makes mistakes during criminal investigations. By having the preliminary hearing, mistakes can be called out by a highly skilled criminal defense attorney, thereby stopping the case in its tracks before it proceeds any further in the court system. This saves the court time and resources, but most importantly provides the accused with the justice they deserve.
However, because the burden for the prosecution is so low at the preliminary hearing, it is not difficult for the prosecutor to prove probable cause a felony was committed, and that the accused committed it. Testimony by the arresting officer is typically enough for the judge to “bind over” on the charges, meaning that the charges will stick, at least for the immediate future, and continue to be brought against the defendant.
Learn more about the burden of proof at a preliminary hearing in this video by our Associate Attorney Ally Keegan here.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges and want to learn more about the many things to consider when hiring a criminal defense law firm to maximize your chances at obtaining the best outcome possible, give us a call today at (619) 295-3555 to set up a case evaluation with one of our attorneys.
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